The Pennine Way holds a special place in the hearts of every walker in Britain. It's not the longest or the prettiest or the toughest or the most spectacular trail, but amongst those in the know, it is the trail whose completion yields the most pride and inspires the most respect.
At 267 miles, it IS a long walk and much of that distance is over remote, high ground where the weather can be both glorious and awesome within the space of an hour.
Long days of stunning views and blissfully isolated walking over heather, peat hags, limestone pavement or open moorland are broken by frequent descents into some of Britain's prettiest valleys and villages, where real ales and great pub food relieve aching limbs. The Pennine Way has all these features, but what truly sets it apart is the way it combines them all in one long, sinuous snake of a journey up the entire backbone of England.
Opened in 1965 and inspired by Tom Stephenson's experiences on the Appalachian Trail in the U.S., the Pennine Way was the first National Trail in the U.K. It begins at the village of Edale and travels, initially, through the bizarre black peat hags and gritstone outcrops of the Dark Peak, before expertly threading its way through the most picturesque of the historic mill towns strung between Manchester and Leeds. Once clear of urban development a long section of easy and pleasing agricultural land leads to the rugged and spectacular limestone landscape of the Yorkshire Dales with Malham and Pen-y-Ghent being the highlights of this section.
The sense of remoteness increases as the walk passes over the wild moorland of Great Shunner Fell and the reservoirs north of Bowes. Another radical change in terrain brings the delightful bank-side meadows and spectacular river scenery of Teesdale as a prelude to the next two days of high level walking over High Cup Nick, the beautiful village of Dufton and the highest point on the trail, Cross Fell at 2947 feet, before dropping down into the pretty market town of Alston. At Greenhead, the trail joins the historic Roman wall built by Hadrian and follows it eastward for a few miles over the steep crags of the Whin Sill, before breaking north again through dark and silent conifer forests and the village of Bellingham, as it heads for Border Country. After a good night's rest at Byrness it's time for the final push of almost 30 miles over the interestingly boggy, wide open spaces of the Cheviots, flirting with the Scottish border all the way, until the final descent to a richly deserved pint in the Border Inn at Kirk Yetholm.
To walk the Pennine Way is to gain an intimate experience of almost every landscape on offer in England in the space of two weeks. This extraordinary scenic variety combined with the near constant sense of isolation over almost three hundred miles of walking through the heart of an exceptionally crowded country is what makes the Pennine Way such a special experience.